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Birdquest's Sakhalin, Kurils, Commanders & Kamchatka birding tour explores wilderness areas in East Asia that are still almost blanks on the birdwatching map. Our Sakhalin, Kurils, Commanders & Kamchatka cruise is a great adventure in itself and records many special birds including the huge Steller's Sea Eagle, Rock Sandpiper, Latham's Snipe, Aleutian Tern, Long-billed Murrelet, Whiskered Auklet, Pechora Pipit, Japanese Robin, Middendorff's Grasshopper Warbler and Kamchatka Leaf Warbler.
Wednesday 30th May —
Monday 11th June 2018
Leaders: Chris Collins and and other Heritage Expeditions leaders
Group Size Limit: 15
Tour Category: Easy walking for the most part and comfortable accommodations
It is not often that one can utterly ‘get away from it all’, but this is certainly an excellent opportunity! Birdquest organized the first-ever expedition cruise to this extraordinary part of the world back in 1993, on a Russian ship that was permitted to go anywhere in the region, and we had to wait a long time before another Russian ship became available for this itinerary. Nowadays, thanks to Heritage Expeditions and the Professor Khromov (or ‘Spirit of Enderby’), this marvellous cruise has become a reality once more!
On this unique journey we will explore remote regions of Siberia far from roads, towns or indeed almost all traces of 21st century ‘civilization’, landing in places rarely visited by man. During our time on this charismatic little expedition ship we shall spend part of our time at sea, enjoying an extended ‘pelagic’, and part ashore, landing by means of the ship’s zodiacs and naiads (which we will also use to get close-up views of seabirds and marine mammals). Travelling by ship allows us to reach areas which are otherwise inaccessible and has a special magic all of its own.
After we arrive in eastern Siberia, or the ‘Russian Far East’ as the locals term this particular part of this vast region, we shall board the ship in the harbour of Korsakov in southernmost Sakhalin.
From Sakhalin we sail southeast across the shallow Sea of Okhotsk, bound for the Kuril Islands. Virtually unknown in the west, the Kurils are a long chain of largely uninhabited volcanic islands connecting Japan with Kamchatka. Here we can see huge, snow-covered conical peaks rising out of the sea, incredible seabird riches, including the little-known Whiskered Auklet, great numbers of other auks (including Brünnich’s Guillemot or Thick-billed Murre, the restricted-range Spectacled Guillemot, Ancient Murrelet, Crested and Rhinoceros Auklets, and Horned and Tufted Puffins), Laysan Albatross, Fork-tailed and Leach’s Storm-Petrels, Temminck’s, Pelagic and Red-faced Cormorants, and Black-tailed and Slaty-backed Gulls. Amongst the Kurils, or further north, we even have a good chance of encountering the rare and endangered Short-tailed Albatross. This fabulous area is also home to one of the world’s finest concentrations of marine mammals, including Killer Whales (or Orcas), Northern Fur Seals, Northern (or Steller’s) Sealions and Sea Otters, as well as Northern Minke, Fin and Great Sperm Whales, and Dall’s Porpoise. And all this is before even mentioning Harlequin Duck, Stejneger’s Scoter (split from Velvet), White-tailed Eagle, Latham’s Snipe (a bird with an impressive ‘dive-bombing’ display), Japanese Robin, Siberian Rubythroat, Brown-headed Thrush, Middendorff’s Grasshopper Warbler and Grey Bunting!
After sailing northwards up the Kurils we will reach Kamchatka. The enormous, diamond-shaped Kamchatka peninsula projects southwards well over 1000 kilometres from the Siberian mainland and divides the Sea of Okhotsk from the Bering Sea and the North Pacific. Situated like the Kurils on one of the earth’s major fault lines, part of the Pacific ‘Ring of Fire’, Kamchatka is peppered with volcanoes, around ten of which are currently active. The constant geological upheavals in this unstable part of our planet have created some of the most extraordinary and spectacular scenery on earth, with immense, Mount Fuji-like, snow-covered volcanic cones towering high above the birch forests and rugged coastline. Here we will look for the majestic Steller’s Sea Eagle, surely the king of raptors and one of the largest flying birds in the world, as well as Far Eastern Curlew, Aleutian Tern, the smart little Long-billed Murrelet (split from Marbled), Rustic Bunting and, with luck, a lingering Yellow-billed Diver (or Yellow-billed Loon).
To the east are the lonely Commander Islands, two small islands at the eastern end of the chain of islands that stretches from Alaska to Kamchatka. Here the Danish explorer Vitus Bering died in 1741 after being shipwrecked together with Steller (of eider, sea eagle and sea cow fame). Far less well known than the nearby Aleutians, the Commanders are home to some of the largest seabird colonies in the region. We will visit Bering and Medny’y Islands where highlights will include the uncommon and highly localized Red-legged Kittiwake as well as Mottled Petrel (over the deeper waters during the crossings), the restricted-range Rock Sandpiper, Glaucous-winged Gull, Parakeet Auklet, Pechora Pipit and the Bering race of Grey-crowned Rosy-Finch, not to mention some huge Northern (or Steller’s) Sealions.
By the time we finish our voyage at Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskiy in southern Kamchatka we will have visited places that only a few other western birdwatchers have ever seen and truly come to understand the meaning of ‘wilderness’.
We shall be sailing on the Professor Khromov, a ship operated by Heritage Expeditions of New Zealand (who call her Spirit of Enderby). Ships of this class are Finnish-built vessels under Russian registry that were built in the 1980s and early 1990s under commission from the Academy of Sciences in Moscow. They were originally intended for oceanographic research, but were subsequently adapted for expedition-style cruising following the financial cutbacks that later affected all formerly Soviet research programmes. These ships are, of course, not ‘cruise ships’ in the traditional manner and will appeal most to those for whom exploring wild places and enjoying wild nature, rather than enjoying luxurious surroundings and ‘black-tie’ dinners with the officers, is the prime attraction.
Cabins are furnished with two berths and have some storage space and an outside view (many having en-suite bathroom facilities). Public facilities include restaurant, lounge/bar, lecture facilities and library. Food is plentiful, of good quality, waiter-served and prepared by European, New Zealand or Australian chefs. The ship carries a small complement of expedition staff, including a naturalist, who give informal talks on the environment, wildlife and history of the region, where required, and also guide shore excursions.
As much of the sailing as possible is done at night, thus maximizing opportunities for going ashore and enjoying the beautiful landscapes to the full. Landings are carried out by means of a fleet of zodiacs and naiads, rugged, fast-moving inflatables designed for expedition work, which allow safe landings on remote coastlines in all types of conditions. The sheer speed and efficiency with which the crew carry out these landings, coupled with the small complement of passengers, allows everyone plenty of time ashore at most locations. Further information about the cruise, including photographs and details of the ship layout, including cabin layouts, are available on the Heritage Expeditions website (www.heritage-expeditions.com).
The great advantage of taking this particular cruise, if you are especially interested in seeing the fantastic wildlife of the Kurils, the Commanders and Kamchatka, is that the itinerary and day to day schedule are strongly wildlife-orientated, and Heritage Expeditions always have at least one experienced ornithologist/birder amongst their expedition leaders.
Birdquest pioneered expedition cruises to this area as far back as 1993.
Important: Sometimes this cruise operates in reverse order, starting in Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskiy in Kamchatka and ending at Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk in Sakhalin.
Shore-based Birding Option: We can arrange accommodation and local birding for you at Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskiy on request. We can also arrange accommodation for you at Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, where some great birds can be found within walking distance of the hotel (we may also be able to arrange for a local bird guide should you want one).
Around Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskiy it is possible to see such interesting species as Aleutian Tern, Eyebrowed Thrush, Lanceolated Warbler, Taiga (or Red-throated) Flycatcher and, with luck, Black-billed Capercaillie, Northern Hawk-Owl and Grey-streaked Flycatcher.
Interesting species in southern Sakhalin include Sakhalin Leaf Warbler (split from Pale-legged), Gray’s Grasshopper Warbler, Oriental Cuckoo, Rufous-tailed Robin, the smart Siberian Blue Robin, Northern Red-flanked Bluetail, Pallas’s Leaf and Radde’s Warblers, the superb Narcissus Flycatcher, the beautiful Long-tailed Rosefinch and Black-faced Bunting.
Please contact us for further information.
Accommodation & Road Transport: For details of the ship, see the introductory section. Road transport is by small coach and roads are variable in quality.
Walking: The walking effort is mostly easy, but there are a few optional harder walks.
Climate: Rather variable. Conditions will range from warm to distinctly cold and dry and sunny periods will be interspersed with overcast weather. Sea fog is quite usual at this season and there may be some rain.
Bird/Sea Mammal Photography: Opportunities are quite good.
Important: It is important to bear in mind that circumstances may be encountered during the voyage which will make it necessary or desirable to deviate from the planned itinerary. These circumstances include poor weather conditions and unexpected opportunities for making additional zodiac excursions. The expedition leader will provide more information at the start of the voyage and keep you fully informed throughout. While as many landings as possible will be made, few of these are crucial in terms of actually seeing the local wildlife, which can mostly be seen from the ship or during an inshore zodiac excursion.
Dates and prices are provisional
Tour Price: For Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk/Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskiy or Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskiy/Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk cruise-only arrangements:
£5040 or $7300 (€6640) in a Main Deck triple-berth cabin with shared bathroom facilities
£5870 or $8500 (€7730) in a Main Deck twin-berth cabin with shared bathroom facilities
£6350 or $9200 (€8370) in a Superior Cabin with private bathroom
£6760 or $9800 (€8910) in a Superior Plus Cabin with private bathroom
£7040 or $10200 (€9270) in a Mini Suite with private bathroom
£7590 or $11000 (€10000) in an Heritage Suite with private bathroom.
Kindly note that this tour is priced in Pounds and US Dollars.
Prices in Euros are only indicative and based on the exchange rate prevailing at the time of calculation: €1 = US$ 1.10. If you are paying in Euros your deposit and final balance payment due will be calculated according to the exchange rate prevailing at the time.
Price includes all transportation, all accommodations, all meals, some drinks, all excursions, all entrance fees, all tips for local drivers/guides ashore, leader services.
Gratuities for the expedition staff and crew, a charge of $500 (payable in cash on board) to cover the landing fees levied by the local governments and any fuel surcharge that may be imposed by the ship operator, are not included in the tour price. Gratuities are entirely at your discretion. The staff work very long hours to make such cruises a success, including a great deal of night sailing, and we have been told that most passengers give gratuities of around US$195-260 for such a 13 days cruise.
Important: Owing to the possibility, however small, of a severe airline delay, we would recommend that all participants have two nights at the cruise start point prior to the cruise. Kindly note that in the event you do not arrive in time, the ship will not wait and neither the cruise operator nor ourselves can make a refund in such circumstances. Arriving early also has the advantage that your luggage could still catch up with you, should it go astray. We can make hotel bookings for you on request.
Single Cabin Supplement: (provisional): Single occupancy of most cabins can be obtained in return for an 80% supplement on top of the cruise-only price (but suites require a 100% supplement). Please note that if you are willing to share but no cabin-mate is available you will not have to pay the single occupancy supplement.
Deposit: 25% of the tour price (including any single supplement).
If you are paying the deposit in Pounds Sterling or Euros rather than in US Dollars, please contact us before sending payment so that we can provide you with the appropriate figure based on the current exchange rate.
Kindly note that the balance due will be invoiced around 5 months before departure for payment not later than 120 days before departure.
Cancellation Charges: For cancellations made 180 days or more before departure, the cancellation charge is US$850 per person or equivalent. For cancellations made 91-179 days before departure, the cancellation charge is 100% of the deposit paid. For cancellations made 1-90 days before departure, or on the day of departure or later, the cancellation charge is 100% of the tour price.
Air Travel To & From The Tour: Our in-house IATA ticket agency can arrange your air travel in connection with the tour from a departure point anywhere in the world, or you may arrange your own air travel if you prefer. We can tailor-make your itinerary to your personal requirements, so if you would like to travel in advance of the tour (and spend a night in an hotel so you will feel fresh when the tour starts), or return later than the end of the tour, or make a side trip to some other destination, or travel business class rather than economy, we will be happy to assist. Please contact us about your air travel requirements.
Many of the flights and flight-inclusive holidays on this website are financially protected by the ATOL scheme. But ATOL protection does not apply to all holiday and travel services listed on this website. Please ask us to confirm what protection may apply to your booking. If you do not receive an ATOL Certificate then the booking will not be ATOL protected. If you do receive an ATOL Certificate but all the parts of your trip are not listed on it, those parts will not be ATOL protected. Please see our booking conditions for information, or for more for more information about financial protection and the ATOL Certificate go to: www.atol.org.uk/ATOL Certificate
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